Folk Stories Recorded in “The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries”
by W. Y. Evans Wentz
In the Highlands: We went on to see the postmaster, Mr. John MacDougall, and he told us that in his boyhood the country-folk round Tomatin believed thoroughly in fairies.
He said they thought of them as a race of spirits capable of making themselves visible to mortals, as living in underground places, as taking fine healthy babes and leaving changelings in their place. These changelings would waste away and die in a short time after being left.
A schoolmaster says: ‘The belief in changelings is not now generally prevalent; but in olden times a mother used to place a pair of iron tongs over the cradle before leaving the child alone, in order that the fairies should not change the child for a weakly one of their own.
It was another custom to take a wisp of straw, and, lighting one end of it, make a fiery sign of the cross over a cradle before a babe could be placed in it.” – p58
As it happened, at the time there was a web of home-made cloth in the house waiting for the tailor. The tailor came and began to work up the cloth. As the woman was going out to her customary shearing operation, she warned the tailor if he heard the child continually crying not to pay much attention to it, adding she would attend to it when she came home, for she feared the child would delay him in his work.
‘All went well till about noon, when the tailor observed the child rising up on its elbow and stretching its hand to a sort of shelf above the cradle and taking down from it a yellow chanter [of a bagpipe]. And then the child began to play.
Immediately after the child began to play the chanter, the house filled with young fairy women all clad in long green robes, who began to dance, and the tailor had to dance with them.
About two o’clock that same afternoon the women disappeared unknown to the tailor, and the chanter disappeared from the hands of the child also unknown to the tailor; and the child was in the cradle crying as usual.
‘The wife came home to make the dinner, and observed that the tailor was not so far advanced with his work as he ought to be in that space of time. However, when the fairy women disappeared, the child had enjoined upon the tailor never to tell what he had seen. The tailor promised to be faithful to the child’s injunctions, and so he said nothing to the mother.
‘The second day the wife left for her occupation as usual, and told the tailor to be more attentive to his work than the day before.
A second time at the same hour of the day the child in the cradle, appearing more like an old man than a child, took the chanter and began to play. The same fairy women filled the house again, and repeated their dance, and the tailor had to join them.
Naturally the tailor was as far behind with his work the second day as the first day, and it was very noticeable to the woman of the house when she returned. She thereupon requested him to tell her what the matter might be.
Then he said to her, “I urge upon you after going to bed to-night not to fondle that child, because he is not your child, nor is he a child: he is an old fairy man.
And to-morrow, at dead tide, go down to the shore and wrap him in your plaid and put him upon a rock and begin to pick that shell-fish which is called limpet, and for your life do not leave the shore until such a time as the tide will flow so high that you will scarcely be able to wade in to the main shore.”
A Tale from “British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions”
By Wirt Sikes, 1880
The inhabitants of the cottage were a man and his wife, and they had born to them twins, whom the woman nursed with great care and tenderness.
Some months after, indispensable business called the wife to the house of one of her nearest neighbours, yet notwithstanding that she had not far to go, she did not like to leave her children by themselves in their cradle, even for a minute, as her house was solitary, and there were many tales of goblins, or the Tylwyth Teg, haunting the neighbourhood.
However, she went and returned as soon as she could; but on her way back she was not a little terrified at seeing, though it was midday, some of the old elves of the blue petticoat.
She hastened home in great apprehension; but all was as she had left it, so that her mind was greatly relieved.
Now there was to be a harvest soon of the rye and oats, so the wise man said to her, “When you are preparing dinner for the reapers, empty the shell of a hen’s egg, and boil the shell full of pottage, and take it out through the door as if you meant it for a dinner to the reapers, and then listen what the twins will say;
If you hear the children speaking things above the understanding of children, return into the house, take them and throw them into the waves of Llyn Ebyr, which is very near to you; but if you don’t hear anything remarkable do them no injury.”
Gwelais fesen cyn gweled derwen;
Gwelais wy cyn gweled iâr;
Erioed ni welais ferwi bwyd i fedel
Mewn plisgyn wy iâr!
Acorns before oak I knew;
An egg before a hen;
Never one hen’s egg-shell stew
Enough for harvest men!
On this the mother returned to her house and took the two children and threw them into the Llyn;
and suddenly the goblins in their blue trousers came to save their dwarfs, and the mother had her own children back again; and thus the strife between her and her husband ended. - p60-61
Sikes, Wirt. 1880. British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions. London: William Clowes and Sons.
Wentz, W. Y. Evans. 1911. The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. London: Oxford University Press.